Online Booze Sales and Broadband Expansion: It’s a Banner Day in Ontario


In one of those rare, happy coincidences, Ontario has made booze available online and said it will increase broadband access in rural areas…on the same day.

That day was Tuesday, and the news came in separate announcements less than one hour apart.

Both announcements should be good news for rural Ontario, and not just for tipplers and online shoppers.

First, the online shopping option could further open up markets for smaller producers, such as Ontario craft beer brewers and VQA wine producers. The province claims it’s offering online LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) sales to give the citizenry “new and convenient” access to the liquor store’s 5,000-plus item catalogue, and strengthen the LCBO’s ability to generate revenue for Ontarians.

It’s important to note here that last year LCBO sales hit almost $5.6 billion and net nearly $2 billion, which the government says it puts towards infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads.

But small VQA wine producers – some of which have their own vineyards — have long blamed the monolithic organization for unfairly catering to high-volume producers…few of which are Canadian, let alone Ontarian. Same thing goes for craft beer producers and the way they get pushed around by The Beer Store, which is owned by big breweries.

Anyway, VQA wine producers claim that getting a spot on the shelves at the average LCBO is dear and nearly impossible, and that the organization does not look out for their interests as small business owners and taxpayers. The LCBO counters by saying it’s limited by physical space, and at most stores it can only offer up what people demanded.

Of course, how can consumers demand something they don’t know exists? It’s not like they can be introduced to new Ontario products at the LCBO’s competitor, because it doesn’t have one. The whole argument is frustrating and goes nowhere, and is based on a restrictive in-store retail model that is fading fast.

Now, at least in theory, the online ordering option reduces the LCBO’s claim that shelf space is limited. In the cyber world, space is virtually endless. The LCBO’s warehouses are limited to an extent, but not nearly in the same way that its retail stores are.

So, it should be able to offer a wider selection of VQA wine and Ontario craft beer, both of which have taken off like rockets and offer new options to some Ontario farmers (particularly for hops production, which is struggling mightily to keep up with the soaring demand for local beer ingredients).

There are a few downsides to all this. First, stock up, because you have to wait 2-3 days for delivery. Second, Canada Post (!) is the delivery agent. Plus, it will cost you a reported $12 for delivery if you have it shipped to your home (free if it’s shipped to an LCBO, but what’s the point in that?).

And then what happens to your order if you’re not at home when it arrives? Presumably, you have to be of legal age to receive it, and they can’t leave it between the doors.

Broadband seems a little more straightforward. You can debate whether you need booze to get by, but business in the modern world depends on reliable connectivity. With that in mind, the governments of Ontario and Canada announced they will invest up to $180 million to help bring ultra-high speed internet to homes and businesses in southwestern Ontario.

This is part of the new Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project, which the province says will expand access to broadband by delivering fibre optic coverage to more than 3.5 million people and 300 communities in southwestern Ontario, as well as Caledon and Niagara.

The province claims the project will help southwestern Ontario communities and businesses better compete in global markets and attract new jobs.

It also says it will “improve quality of life,” allowing individuals to use online resources to gain skills and experience. And, just like their urban counterparts, it will give them much more opportunity to, yes, buy things online.

Like products from the LCBO.

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